Coronavirus: Wits medical student tests positive Covid-19, 350 others instructed to self-isolate

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The Department of Health says the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) is conducting a "confirmatory test" on the specimen of a Wits University student who has tested positive for Covid-19.

On Sunday, the tertiary institution said the medical student had tested positive for the virus, despite not showing any symptoms of the virus.

The university’s senior executive made the announcement in an email circulated to staff and students on Sunday. 

The student had been in self-isolation since Wednesday – a precaution taken by the university while they waited on his test results.

The student was tested last week, and results came back positive on Sunday afternoon.

The department said the test had been conducted by a private laboratory.

"As previously announced by the Minister of Health, on receiving positive results froma private laboratory, the NICD will conduct a retest in order to confirm and validate theresults before they are released," the statement read.

The department added that it would make a formal announcement once the NICD's results were available.

The Wits senior executive team said the student was "asymptomatic and attended classes last Monday and Tuesday, without knowledge that the student had contracted the virus".

The university's statement added that the institution had since taken an immediate decision to cancel all contact classes for the Graduate Medical Programme 1 (MMBBCh 3 classes). The programme will continue online.

READ | Special hub: All you need to know about coronavirus in SA and the world

The university has also instructed students in the programme to immediately go into self-isolation for 14 days.

"The Faculty is personally reaching out to each of the 350 students who could be affected. They will receive the full support of the Faculty, including the requisite monitoring and testing," the executive team said.

Dean of Students Jerome September would be making arrangements for students in residences who required self-isolation.

"All students who require assistance should contact Thembelihle Dlamini on 072 8390223. Those who require counselling can call the 24-hour Wits student support number on 0800 111 331,” the statement said.

Students can also contact the Department of Health on WhatsApp at 0600 123 456 or visit the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ (NICD) website on www.nicd.co.za.

"The Wits senior executive team is meeting this afternoon to decide on the way forward for the Faculty and all other university activities.

"An update will follow this evening. In the interim, we appeal to the Wits community to remain calm. Please be assured that we are managing this issue and making decisions based on the best medical advice available," the statement said.

"This is an anxiety causing time for the university community and the country as a whole. However, if we all take a pragmatic approach to this pandemic, it is very likely that the country will get through this crisis.

"Importantly, it is everybody’s responsibility to protect themselves so that we also protect all other South Africans and most importantly the most vulnerable in our society."

Late on Saturday, the university indicated that it was considering whether to cancel its upcoming graduation ceremonies, as well as other major events.The decision would be based on "the latest data available & the advice of experts in the field", it said, and would be communicated early next week.

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